Hold That Storyline


Thanks to people like E.J. Dionne, Amy Sullivan, and (I’m afraid) present company, the new storyline on religion and politics is that, yes, Virginia, the Democrats get it. Recognizing that their party has suffered on the short end of the religion gap, seeing that Democratic candidates do well if they take their faith out from under the bushel, the party establishment and leading presidential aspirants have, this cycle, gotten with the program. This is a really cool narrative, quite apart from the wishful thinking of those who hope it may be so.
But life is rarely so simple–and big political coalitions do not transform themselves overnight. I’ve been poking around a little, and it seems that behind the media scrim, where the tussle for attention and resources takes place, many Democratic worker bees have not had the big conversion experience. The party, sure, would like to have it both ways–appealing to the faith-based even as they hold on to the strong bloc of the secularist faithful. But who gets the extra hire at the DNC–Catholic Outreach or EMILY’s List or the GLBTQ crowd? This bifurcated undertaking is, apparently, most problematic within the Obama campaign, which does not lack for people happy to let religion be baracketed off, so to speak, as just a black thing. Even as Obama himself has pointed to those who worship an awesome God in the blue states, outreach to religious voters has reportedly been shortchanged, and been far less effective than in the Clinton campaign. So perhaps it’s no accident that she has been doing very well, thank you, with white Christians, both Catholic and otherwise, while the Illinois senator has (poll after exit poll shows) done far better among the religiously uninvolved.
In a word, reports of the demise of hard secularism in the Democratic Party have been exaggerated. Just as (pace Jim Wallis) have reports of the demise of the Religious Right in the GOP (update: as here).